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In a reversal from decades of policy, the House of Representatives voted to legalize marijuana on Friday, despite criticism from congressional Republicans about how big of a priority marijuana needs to be right now.
The bill, titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, would have been considered unthinkable a few decades ago, enjoys support from the vast majority of Democrats in Congress, and the House vote passed 220-204. The Senate is likely to vote along a similarly narrow, partisan margin.
The bill was vigorously opposed by some Republicans such as Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who took to the podium to rail against what he argued is a seriously skewed sense of priorities.
“The left will not let the Democrats do what needs to be done to help the inflation problem, the energy problem, the illegal immigration problem on our southern border, so what do they do? They legalize drugs. Wow. Wow!” Jordan railed.
Other opponents of the bill, such as Representative Pete Stauber (R-MN), who is a former police officer, spoke of having to make “devastating” official visits to families to inform them that a loved one had died in an accident from drivers who were intoxicated with drugs. These sentiments were echoed by Representative Cliff Bentz (R-OR), who also believed that there would be a rise in impaired drivers, Fox News reported.
The bill’s advocates say that federal legalization will end the tug-of-war with states over the matter, which has seen individual states passing legalization legislature that the federal government has been more or less powerless to stop. Most states now allow the drug in some capacity or other, although there is still a divide over recreational use versus medicinal usage based on prescriptions.
Proponents also allege that the bill will help with disproportionate punishments handed down to racial minorities and the poor for possession of marijuana, though most of those cases are actually handled by local police rather than the federal government.
According to The Hill, a Pew Research poll last year showed nearly 91 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana at least for medicinal usage. Democrats have seized on this and seem to believe that it will be a winning message ahead of the midterm elections in November.
“This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history: delivering justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization; opening the doors of opportunity for all to participate in this rapidly growing industry; and decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level so we do not repeat the grave mistakes of our past,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has expressed support and even suggested that legalization is now a top priority, which may now become reality due to a slight Democratic majority in the Senate, a change from his last attempt in 2020.
However, it remains to be seen if the Democrat-controlled Senate, which has already proven incredibly vulnerable and tenuous at best, as shown in the various Build Back Better and infrastructure bills, would survive a Republican-led filibuster. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), whose states have been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic, have signaled doubts about the benefits of legalizing marijuana at the federal level.
In general, the more limited the scope of legalization (such as only allowing it for medicinal uses based on a prescription from a licensed physician) is expected to be more successful in the Senate than the broader legalization of marijuana for recreational use, suggested Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
This is not the first time a de-criminalization bill has passed the House. A similar attempt in 2020, which passed by a larger margin of 228-164, went on to stall out and die in the Senate.
It remains to be seen if this attempt will fare any better, as Blumenauer hopes, and whether or not it will matter much in the November midterm elections as many Democrats are clearly hoping.
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